November 23, 2004

I’ve mastered the art of turkey carving several times. Yet every year, I leave our bird looking like we served it through a woodchipper. Carving is a holiday talent, like egg decoration or candy theft. You learn it, do it, then have a whole year to forget it again.

I’m fine with that. Carcass gutting is not a prerequisite of the Modern Guy Skill Set. My background is journalism and drama. I can ask pointed questions about why a turkey died or weep believably over its corpse. But every year, there I am, packing more steel than a ninja, approaching a bird I have nothing against, expected to render him into medallion-sized slices without swearing or harming bystanders.

"It’s your Thanksgiving job," my wife tells me.

Apparently opening jars and eating what falls on the floor counts for nothing anymore.

"I could make something instead," I suggest. "Like that pie. Remember that pie? "

"I would rather give you the knives," she says.

So I gathered some tips, from cooking Web sites and my own painful experience, to help guys face their fowl:

Cooling-off period: Allow the turkey to sit for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This does three things: 1) It allows the juices to soak into the meat. 2) It gives you time to Google "turkey carving." 3) If the turkey has any lingering doubts about being dead, it allows him to express them.

Carve in secret, if you can: What law says you have to do this in front of everybody? It’s not a circumcision. Take the bird to an undisclosed location and you’ll be able to miss, swear and accidentally self-mutilate in peace. Secrecy also prevents annoying questions like "What’s taking so long?" and "Why do you need a screwdriver? "

Hang on: Turkeys are crafty and quick, and these traits continue after death. Another reason NOT to carve at the table: You don’t want your holiday marred by a "turkey squirt," where an aggressive, headless bird slips the knife and charges an unsuspecting in-law at the far end of the table. Remember: Turkeys die knees-up because God wants us to have handles.

Cut off the drumsticks first:

Grab the drumstick, slice along the seam and cut the joint where the drumstick hooks onto the fuselage, twisting it free. Yes, it’s creepy. But with the drumsticks gone, you can pretend it’s a ham.

Turkey breast: The cooking Web site advises slicing down the breast vertically, parallel to the breastbone, keeping the slices as wide and thin as possible. Narrow, thick or overly succulent slices should be eaten immediately. Why put your guests through a bad presentation?

White meat/dark meat: Have a variety available. White meat is plentiful around the breast. Dark meat is available by cutting the drumsticks parallel to the bone. Blue, gray or rainbow-tinged meat should be set aside for the relative deemed "most annoying."

Presentation: Wait until the entire bird is carved to show your work. Bringing it out piece by piece makes it feel less like a holiday meal and more like something you hit with your car.

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